CIOs need to pay more attention to ‘rise’ of smart machines: Gartner

Analyst firm highlights threat-benefit debate on machines’ increasing control over key business decisions

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CIOs need to pay more attention to ‘rise’ of smart machines: Gartner Prentice: As smart machines become increasingly capable, they will become viable alternatives to human workers.
By  Stephen McBride Published  June 30, 2015

CIOs need to pay closer attention to the issues surrounding smart machines, which could be usurping control from line of business over key strategic decisions, analyst firm Gartner warned today.

Many of the world's nations, including the UAE, have made strides in smart government and smart city initiatives, using machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions that combine sensor data with advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). According to Gartner, these systems are making "increasingly significant business decisions over which humans have decreasing control".

Advancements made in M2M, both in capability and affordability, have accelerated the adoption of solutions, but now, among business leaders, such systems are seen as a threat rather than a benefit to the enterprise.

"As smart machines become increasingly capable, they will become viable alternatives to human workers under certain circumstances, which will lead to significant repercussions for the business and thus for CIOs," said Stephen Prentice, vice president and Gartner Fellow. "In the 2015 Gartner CEO and business leader survey, opinions were equally divided on this issue and indicate that business leaders are starting to take notice of the advances being made and more readily acknowledge that the threat to knowledge work is real."

Prentice urged organisations to take a broader view of the changes, alluding to economist Joseph Schumpeter's theory of creative destruction.

"As smart machines become more capable, and more affordable, they will be more widely deployed in multiple roles across many industries, replacing some human workers," said Prentice. "This is nothing new. The deployment of new technology has eliminated millions of jobs over the course of history. At the same time, entirely new industries have been developed by those technologies, almost always creating millions of new jobs. Organisations must balance the necessity to exploit the significant advances being made in the capabilities of various smart machines with the perceived negative impact of resulting job losses."

Gartner has predicted more growth in smart machines over the next five years, and as those systems make more and more "decisions that are of growing significance to the business", fear of their dominance of human workers will ultimately arise.

"The fear among many individuals is that the machines will take over, start making decisions on their own and run out of control, posing a threat to individuals, society and even humanity itself," Prentice said. "However, within the confines of currently known technology, the idea of machines attaining some level of self-awareness, consciousness or sentience is still the stuff of science fiction. Even with the coming generation of smart machines, which actively learn and will be able to adapt their actions to optimise their progress toward a goal, humans can choose to remain in control."

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